What a chilling and sinister warning from Ray Bradbury…and a fitting one as we head into Halloween week. No matter how old I get, and perhaps this is true for some of you as well, as Halloween night approaches, the wind seems to whisper just a bit more, the clouds and tree branches take on strange shapes at sunset and as darkness falls, and the moon, regardless of the phase it’s in might glow just a bit more brightly. All too soon, the jack o lanterns will disappear from windows and doorsteps, replaced by the warm, welcoming glow of Christmas lights but for the next six days—the beauty of the outdoors takes on an orange tinted, spectral glow as we draw closer to All Hallow’s Eve.
Bradbury’s beautiful prose is taken from one of his most celebrated novels and the “Autumn People” he refers to are a band of supernatural traveling carnival workers, bent on collecting the souls of townspeople in one of those Any town, U.S. A. settings some American authors are so famous for. His Autumn People, led by Mr. Dark are physical presences within the town and for those who have read the novel, you know we wait until almost the final pages to see if good will triumph over the evil that has settled onto the town.
Sadly, while Bradbury can banish his creations at the end of his novel, the intangible hand of the these “autumn people” hovers over lives in many different ways. Not live, menacing monsters who lurk in quiet doorways, ready to provide a jump scare to children and adults, but rather the presence of all that we’d like to removed from our society- inequality, injustice, hatred, intolerance, discrimination, violence, disease, war and havoc—these are the autumn people that haunt our news headlines, our social media feeds, and at times may even touch our personal lives. Sowers of disharmony and discord, intent on causing chaos and calamity, we cannot always identify these specters when we are within their presence. And yet, as Bradbury says “they frenzy forth”, spilling their hate the world over and we well should “beware of them”.
Both in the novel and in our lives, the only way to overcome the dreaded presence of the Autumn People is with unity, happiness, peace and love. Perhaps it is no wonder that as our Halloween season comes to an end, it is followed by the season of thanks and giving, and the season of goodwill toward man. For we can, as a school community, as a state, as a country and as a world, rise against the tide of hatred and intolerance, whenever it washes ashore as long as we remember always two essential things:
There is more that unites us than divides us.
We are all created in the image and likeness of God.
For as long as I have been Head of School at Saint Dominic Academy, we’ve partnered each October with Women Rising; a Jersey City community organization that works to help women and children who are victims of abuse. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I always felt it was important to take time away from our classes for one day, and hold an assembly which outlines clearly to our young ladies how teen dating violence can, if not stopped, lead to a pattern of suffering life – long abuse. This October, although Women Rising cannot join us in person for a school wide assembly, they agreed to prepare a presentation for all of our young ladies, and together we coordinated with our Religion, English and Health Departments to have Ms. Pawka, (Health) work with Ms. Armea (Campus Minister) and Mrs. Herrera (Religion Dept) to share and discuss this presentation with all of our young ladies during this upcoming week in October. I cannot thank all of these teachers enough, and my thanks to everyone at Women Rising and especially Margaret Abrams, our contact there, for putting all of this together in virtual form. We are happy to share it here today.
In New Jersey alone, we have these truly terrible statistics, compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN NEW JERSEY
• There were 65,060 domestic violence offenses reported by the police in 2019
• Overall, females were victims in 75 percent of all domestic violence offenses.
• Domestic violence offenses arising from a dating relationship accounted for 14 percent of the state total.
• 1 in 4 women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
• On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines receive approximately 21,000 calls, approximately 15 calls every minute.
• Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
• 72% of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these crimes are female.
Statistics and data can overwhelm us at times, especially for those of us (myself included) who are not mathematically inclined. I can look at these numbers above, as can every single young lady at Saint Dominic Academy, and see that these numbers are awful and far too high. However, sometimes I think we really only come to understand just how big a concern this is for women when we have it touch our lives personally in some way.
While I would of course hope and pray that there is not one young woman walking the halls at Saint Dominic Academy who has had this affect her life in some way, the numbers show otherwise—that one in every four girls who say hello to me each morning will have this specter’s shadow fall over them; at least once. And what the young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy don’t know, what the faculty and staff don’t know, and what the overall SDA community did not know before reading this blog is that every time they cross the path of their Head of School, they are crossing the path of someone who falls into that 1 in 4 statistic…and it began in high school.
Long ago and far away now, but still not ever a topic I revel in discussing, it happened to me. And because, at that time, there was not such an emphasis on how teen violence could lead into a pattern of abusive relationships—it went on far longer than it ever should have, and for certain, it has cast a long shadow over my life. It is my hope, that in sharing this part of my history with the young women of Saint Dominic Academy, in showing them just how close they can be to the 1 out of 4 number, they will work to make wise choices…when they are dating as teens and when they choose a partner as adult women.
Let us all, each of us as strong women, work to make sure that the future of New Jersey, America and the world over, becomes a future where these statistics are erased, where women are safe at all times, and where domestic abuse becomes just another part of history that we are less than proud of as a country.
If you told me I would be spending the Saturday morning of Columbus Day weekend, after the longest first month of school in the history of the world, sewing cloth voodoo dolls onto a child’s black robe and top hat, I would have said you were losing your mind. And yet, guess what I just finished doing? One hour, at least ten needle pricks in my index finger, a few re-threadings of the needle, and presto! Because when the store doesn’t have the “perfect” voodoo witch costume, the one that meets all the specifications laid out by your nine year old daughter, it’s “mom to the rescue.” This week, it’s fake dolls from Michael’s being sewn on a costume. Last week, it was a white pumpkin carved with a ghost face for a movie party with a friend, and who knows what it will be next week. What I do know is this, whatever it is, if I can make it happen, then I’ll put down the laundry and the bills and the lesson plans, and stay up late after night meetings, or get up early before work starts and make it happen. Why? Because, as we all know, that’s what mom’s do.
I tell this story this weekend because in a non COVID – 19 world, this is the week I’d be sitting down to plan what to say at the annual SDA Mother Daughter Brunch. And although we cannot gather together this fall and pray and celebrate as we’d like to do, that does not mean I’m passing up the opportunity to remind all of the young ladies at SDA just how much they should appreciate their mothers. Far too often, we take our parents, both of them, for granted and it’s almost par for the course when it comes to teenage daughters and their moms. I well remember—although it’s long ago that I was a teenager myself, I can call to mind pretty quickly just how much I took my mom for granted—a mistake I’d never make today. Here I am all proud because I managed to sew some dolls on a hat. My mom, who was a school administrator as well, somehow found the time to make three Halloween costumes each year—homemade head to toe, decorate the house, get dinner on the table each night, help with homework, do her own work, and together with my dad, throw a party each and every October. (She made her and my dad’s costumes too!)
Young ladies of SDA, take a moment as you read this and think—think back to when you were four or five years old. What did your mom do for you in October to make Halloween magically fun for you? ( Mine made me a Princess Leia costume!) Or think back to when you were in the school play as a child…who helped you learn your lines? Who sat there with a huge bouquet of flowers even if you were playing “orphan # 3” in Annie Jr? Who drove you to ballet class, to soccer practice, to Rag Shop (remember those stores Moms?) at 6:00pm on a Sunday night to get what you needed for a school project? Who helped you sell Girl Scout Cookies or patched up your skinned knees after your first Pee-Wee basketball game? As you’re reading this…I’m certain a thousand images of all the things your mom (and your dad too of course…but I talk about Dads in January!) did for you growing up….things that you probably won’t fully appreciate it until you have a child of your own.
Being a mother means several important things:
Sleepless nights are worth it if you’re losing sleep to do something to make your daughter smile.
You worry no matter how young or old your daughter is—when she’s not under your roof, part of your heart isn’t either.
The phases“ you’re the worst mom ever”,“everybody else’s mom let’s them…”, “how come you can’t be more like _____’s mom” will roll right off your back when they are uttered, and within a few years…will wash off your heart as well. You know your daughter doesn’t really mean it.
You’ll wear the same: coat, sneakers, cocktail dress, whatever for years if it means your little girl can have the dress, sneakers, purse, whatever that she’s been dreaming of all year long.
The saddest Christmas morning is the one where there’s no wrapped doll under the tree—because it means your daughter is growing up! ( thankfully I haven’t hit this milestone yet)
Most of all, being a mother means loving unconditionally, from the moment you are placed in your mom’s arms onward, you become her “one true thing” and she’ll do anything to make your life as wonderful as she can. If we were at La Reggia together, by now, I’d be crying, your moms would be crying and many of you, although you’d say otherwise, might have a slight mist of tears in your eyes as well.
So, we may not be all together and it may be some time before the mothers and daughters of SDA can gather together and celebrate, but that does not mean you can’t take a moment today, to sit next to your mom, put your arms around her and say…
Nothing. Nothing at all. You don’t ever have to say a word. Know why? Because we moms already know and…we love you too.Missing all my SDA moms and daughters so much…and holding out hope that we can brunch together soon.
We’ve made it to October…the time of year where pumpkins glow on doorsteps and many houses have cobwebs proudly displayed ( for a change—mine always seems to have them lurking). Skeletons and spiders adorn windows and doors and even the air feels a chill as the sun sets and night falls. October always brings with it a sense of mystery, a haunted wind and although this year has been like no other—there are some things about October that never change.
While many TV channels and web based media sites take the month of October to focus on a somewhat supernatural line up of movies and shows, this year, the FX “regular” American Horror Story is missing from the fall viewing options. A favorite among many of the young ladies here at SDA, October was always a time when students would pop into my office to ask if I’d watched, what I thought about the season, et al. I miss that fun chit chat with the students who were devotees of the show—for the past several Octobers it was always nice to take a minute or two each Thursday to chat about the prior night’s episode.
That made me wonder, how many of our students have tuned in to the “substitute” show from the creators of AHS—Ratched on Netflix. Featuring AHS icon Sarah Paulson in the title role, the show invents the fictional backstory to one of American culture’s most loathed villains; Nurse Mildred Ratched from Ken Kessy’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I am not certain how many of this current generation are familiar with the book or the iconic film starring Louise Fletcher and Jack Nicholson, but with all the hype Netflix has given this new imagining of its title character and all the push to have it fill in for AHS this October season, I’d think that many of our students have tuned in, for an episode or two.
I watched; although I was not ever a fan of the novel or the film and what struck me watching this time around was a fact more terrifying than all the blood and gore usually present in these stylistic horror shows. I did some reading and research after the third episode and was horrified to learn the following:
40,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States before the practice was halted.
Of that number, 75% of the procedures were performed on women.
The United States performed more of these surgical procedures than any other country in the world.
The controversial inventor of the lobotomy, Dr. Walter Freeman, received a Nobel Prize for his work on the procedure. While there have been calls for it to be taken away, it has not been rescinded.
The practice began in the late 1930’s and although was banned in most countries by the end of the 1950’s, continued to be practiced in the United Sates until the 1970s. Additionally, there were a limited number performed in the United States as late as 1987.
Among the most notable cases are:
Rose Williams, older sister of playwright Tennessee Williams; she was incapacitated for life.
Eva Peron, First Lady of Argentina, to “ease anxiety” as she was dying from cancer.
Rose Marie Kennedy, sister of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy, at the age of 23. It was done by her father, without her mother’s knowledge. She was incapacitated for the rest of her life and it was a secret for many years.
In this day and age, when we see so many notable women in the forefront of the medical arena, political arena, and we all strive to teach young women to express themselves, to speak up, to be open about their thoughts and feelings, to march to the beat of a different drummer, to spread new ideas and open people’s eyes to new points of view…it’s terrible to realize that less than a half a century ago, this barbaric procedure was being performed on women, mainly as a means to subdue them, in the guise of “easing their suffering” or “calming their nerves.”
It’s a time period, not too far removed for many of us—and yet another instance of women’s voices being silenced and of statistic data showing that women were more often marked for this type of treatment than men. While, for those of my generation and back might naturally “see” Jack Nicholson when we think of a lobotomy procedure; in this instance and sadly in many more, we have to separate the fiction from the reality. While the face of the lobotomy in the world of film and media might be of the male patient suffering this wretched incapacitation at the hands of a vengeful female nurse…that was not the case for the women in America from the late 1930s into the 80’s.
And while we can’t look to Netflix to correct the altered media perception of this procedure, at least their show might call upon people to do what I did, and become so put off by the concept that we look to learn the true facts behind the fiction. Once we see those facts, we can’t unsee them.
Yet again, we are faced with the harsh reality that our voices as women have been silenced in this country for far longer than we often realize and that while we are lucky to now see more and more women in the public world stage, we have to remember always what a struggle it was for them to get there and how there needs to be more ongoing and outward support of female empowerment. We have to continually encourage young women to reach for their dreams and to truly embrace the mindset that they should never let anyone silence their voices.
Followed by Virtual Financial Night for 11th and 12th Grade Parents
Saint Dominic Academy welcomes all of our new parents and welcomes back our parents who have shared years with us. While we cannot host an on-site Back to School Night, we did want to offer a real-time event, so that you can meet your daughter’s teachers. The event will be conducted via Google Meet. Your daughter need to be present at home with you for this event, as she has to let you into each class period via the Google Meet link for each class. Please follow the time schedule below.
The event will begin in your daughter’s homeroom where the homeroom teacher will explain how to return the Parent Student Handbook forms via Google Docs. Then, you can travel virtually from class to class to meet each teacher.
Guidance will reach out the Monday prior to this event with their email addresses. We ask, if you want to talk with a teacher one on one about his/her class, please email guidance and set up a separate virtual meeting. Back to School Night is really structured for the teacher to give a brief overview of class curriculum and for you, as parents, to put a face to the names you hear about from your daughters. Individual questions cannot be fully accommodated at this event.
Friday, October 2, 2020:
The teachers and administration appreciate all the understanding and cooperation given by both our parents and students during this Hybrid Learning period. As our teachers and students arrive at Saint Dominic Academy by 730am each morning, and will undergo a full day of remote and in person classes prior to this Back to School Night, and will then be back “in the classroom” until after 7pm, Saint Dominic Academy will be closed on Friday, October 2nd. There will be no remote classes or club meetings on that date.
I heard on the radio last week, that it has been seven months since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in New Jersey. I know, just from looking at my datebook that we have been in some form of this state of emergency for six full months now. Six months — a long long time, yes? And we’ve all been so strong; we’ve put on brave faces for our children and we’ve risen to the occasion when it came to caring for older family members and some of us have faced sickness and loss and death of loved ones. We’ve learned how Google Classroom works, even if it’s been decades since we ourselves have been in schools and we mastered the art of Zoom, and most of us know how to use Door Dash, Grub Hub and Instacart and I would think we all owe a great deal of gratitude to Amazon.com and to all of our delivery drivers—as they rang our doorbells almost daily- masked and ready to hand to us what we needed but could not go out and get.
Restrictions have eased, but they are still in place and so still, we all need to be so very strong—September brought a new set of hard decisions; homeschool? Remote classes? Hybrid classes? Do we use the school bus? Public transportation? Do we play sports? Go back to ballet? Can friends get together safely? If we send her to school, can she still see her elderly grandparents? What will happen if there’s an outbreak? What if our child contracts COVID and is asymptomatic? What if they then carry it to someone who gets very sick? It’s a hard time to be a parent and the strength we need to pick our heads up each morning and get through the days with bright smiles, warm hugs, and words of reassurance and comfort, before we can lay our weary heads to rest at night is monumental. Where do we find it? From deep within, from the example our own parents set for us in years gone by, and of course, from God.
I don’t know about all of you parents, but there are days when I just need a bit of a release from all the weight I feel on my shoulders- at work and at home. And yet, could it even be possible…for I am too tired or too stressed or too hyper from being so vigilant about everything to even sit down and have one of those “good cries” that provide a much needed stress relief. So, I wonder, are our students, our children feeling the same way? All bundled up emotion with no outlet? After all they see us making the best of things, rising to meet challenges each day and I am willing to bet we rarely, if ever let them see us scared or upset or crying. Age 8 or 18, they imitate us—because we work to shape them into the adults and parents they will someday be. So, how can we help these students and our children to find a way to just “let it go” and almost purge all the pent up emotion.
All I can offer is what works for me; and I am well aware it will sound perhaps a bit strange. We all know, those of us who love to sing and those who just love music that music has the ability to bring forth great emotion; joy and sorrow. What I’ve found helps me is music—and one song in particular. All I have to do is hear it and tears well up, and before I know it, I can have that cry I so need and then dry my eyes, smile with not only my mouth but with my heart, and go back to the business of my life as a wife, mom and Head of School.
What song? Well, that’s kind of a funny story—and in fact it was pretty much a parlor trick in my house when I was growing up. I have no idea why, but from when I was a tiny child, if I heard Peter Paul and Mary sing Leavin on a Jet Plane, I would cry and cry. My parents were, at first very comforting, then slightly bewildered and then and I’m sure they will be less than pleased to have this told, amused by it. I can remember times when family or friends were over and my dad would start to sing it—to show them the effect it had. As a parent now, I don’t blame them—it was kind of a strange and unusual reaction and it never failed.
You might think all these years later the effect would wear off. But no—although I’ve progressed…I can listen to the song, I can even sing along—for a verse or two at the most and then the tears start to flow. It never fails and these days it’s my husband and daughter who look at me in bewildered amusement. But I’m happy to have remembered the effect that song has on me—because now, when I need a good cry, I can just say “Alexa, play Leavin on a Jet Plane” and in 3 minutes I feel so much better.
We all need a release from being so strong all the time. Whether yours is music or something else, find it and put it to good use on the hardest days. And, help your daughter find her release as well—with the weight of school and sports and socializing amid unprecedented times on her shoulders, she needs it as well. Borrow “my song” if you’d like—I think it just might do the trick!
Stay strong and thank you, thank you, for returning your daughters to SDA this fall!
A picture, they say, is worth 1,000 words. So, save for a brief sentence or two, I’m going to let the photos below, of our hardworking and dedicated faculty and staff here at SDA speak for themselves. What you see are our teachers and staff, in two days of workshops, observing all social distance and mask guidelines in order to prepare for school. The presentation itself focused on how to meet with both live and full remote students at the same time, using iPad, Apple TV, Whiteboard App, and remote microphone all at once.
More than ever, this year, teaching is a work of the HEART and I thank all of our dedicated teachers from the bottom of mine!
A Reading and Reflection… as we begin our school year and open our building tomorrow to teachers and staff and to students next week, we ask for the entire Saint Dominic Academy community to join us in this prayer. The initial reflection is taken from the Bible and I ask that you join in the personal petitions I call for, on behalf of all at SDA and in our entire world.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die…
We pray for those in our SDA family who have lost loved ones, and for those who will
welcome new life this year.
A time to kill and a time to heal…
As the peril of the COVID- 19 virus continues to threaten lives the world over, we pray for theeventual healing of our community, our state, our country and our world.
A time to weep and a time to laugh…
Each of us wept many times from March onward, but we offer prayers of thanks for themoments of laughter that filtered through our lives, as we spent more time with family, unitedin isolation.
A time to mourn and a time to dance…
We mourn many things…for the loss of family members, for our SDA community the loss ofability to celebrate our senior class last year, the loss of the college experience for youngpeople around the country, the loss of the support of friends as we spent days seeing nobody.
And yet, we pray there are more dancing moments in our future…and we celebrate the onesthat shone through these past months…weddings that have shown that love conquers all,new grandchildren’s first smiles and first steps…even if seen only through a computer, andthe new strength we have all found inside ourselves.
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…
As we dwell still in the time where we must refrain from embracing, we pray for the days whenwe can once again embrace our friends. Until then, we ask God to let our hearts shine morebrightly, so that our love for others becomes an intangible embrace, offering friendship,comfort and hope.
A time to love…and a time for peace…
It is always this time; every day–when we come together as a school, when we cometogether with family, when we connect with friends- remotely or otherwise…we share ourmessage of peace and hope, our prayers for love and kindness to overcome all that saddensour hearts…and we remember always that if we put forth love, we will find love.
When I was six years old, I suddenly got very sick. I was in Christ Hospital in Jersey City for almost two full weeks in March. I only remember bits and pieces of my time there, but I have one memory that still stands out clear as day. It was that year that Cabbage Patch Kids were the newest craze–not sure if anyone recalls, but you had to adopt one in advance and it took so long for them to come into the local Toy’s R Us. You could not choose hair or eye color; you got what you got. And, if you recall the craze, then you recall the prices—sky high! I had not asked Santa for one that past Christmas, but while I was lying in my hospital bed, I wanted one more than anything.
My dad was working at the time in Morristown and would visit me daily before work or after work. My mom was not back to work yet, she had six year old me, my four year old brother, and my almost two year old brother. I don’t know how she found the time to be at the hospital every day, but she was there. She listened to me talk about this Cabbage Patch Kid, probably until she had a headache from it. I was going to take the “baby” I adopted to the park and put her on the swings and read her bedtime stories and have picnics with her–I realize now it was all the things I wanted to do but could not while I was sick. I realize now also that the cost of a Cabbage Patch doll, on top of the daily costs of three kids, me in Catholic school and now this hospital stay–was most likely too high for my parents at that particular time.
But my mother listened each day; I was hoping for one with red hair and green eyes, like the one in the TV commercial constantly showing in the hospital room. And she made me a promise–and she kept it. Today, at 43 years old, I can still hear her clear as day… “ Things will get better. It won’t be like this for much longer. And when you come home, we’ll go to the park and go on the swings and have a picnic…and you’ll come with me to Toys R Us one day and pick up your adopted doll. It will get better Sarah, just wait a little longer. I’m your mother and I promise you- it will be ok.”
What made me think of this, so many years later? Well, I guess it’s because mothers all over NJ and all over the United States and even the world, are probably uttering similar words–plugging in the routine activities or new expectations their daughters and sons had; activities and expectations that seem to once again be on a unknown “hold.”
You will get to go away to college; it won’t be remote forever.
You will get to go back to school…soon, I promise.
You’ll take your road test soon–you’ll be driving before you know it…trust me.
In just a little bit longer you can: see your friends inside, have a sleepover, go to dancing class, go
back to sports, and CCD classes…just hang on a bit longer.
It’s not the end of the world; you’ll have your wedding, your baby shower, your sweet sixteen –we’ll make it happen and it will be beautiful–just be patient.
Things will get better- the world won’t stay this way forever.
And for those interested in the end of my six year old story…well the day came and we went to Toy’s R Us and picked up my “baby.” She had blond hair, brown eyes, was dressed in a grey track suit and came with a yellow pacifier in her mouth. ( it’s amazing what the mind can recall!)Her name was Rena Madeline and to this day, she’s still in my house. And we went on a picnic at Hudson County Park and we went on swings and I read her bedtime stories as my mom read stories to my brothers and I think it was at six years old that I learned for the first time–my parents, my mom will not make a promise she cannot keep. I’ve had faith in that ever since—and I call her daily just to hear her say to me:
Sarah, it won’t be like this forever–just hang on–you’re doing the best you can. It will get better, I promise.
And just like that, I have the strength to go on, and the strength to make that same promise to my own daughter–just as each of you make that promise you your daughters daily. We mothers and fathers, we promise–and our children believe. They believe because they have faith in us and trust in us to make good on the promise. It’s us, the adults, who have to have faith in a higher power, and to ask for the strength and the wisdom to “hold on–just a bit longer” so that we can show our children daily, that one day soon, we’ll make all these promises come true.
Keep the faith, mothers and fathers—keep making the promises we all need right now. We know, it will get better.
What to watch on yet another day of being in the house? At this point, I’m certain we are all sick of Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and whatever other options are on the screen in front of us—they’ve been our constant companions since March and even now, when more and more people are venturing out—they still are for many, the “highlight” of the day. And so, what to watch on this stormy Tuesday with the rain pouring down in buckets and the trees blowing fiercely? I don’t know about you, but lately, nothing comes to mind when I turn on the TV. I literally cannot think of a thing to watch. Thank goodness these trusty channels will “recommend” something.
Because you watched Jaws…and literally every movie Richard Dreyfuss movie is contained within the recommended movie scroll. Oh..well…Mr. Holland’s Opus…I remember that one. I saw it first when I was 18 years old- fresh out of high school, heading to college and still perhaps a bit unsure of what I would do with the rest of my life. And so, I press play and sit back on the couch for 143 minutes of what Amazon terms: a wonderful, ‘feel-good’ story about a young man who wants to compose music… but takes a job teaching music in a school to provide a reliable income. … But the years roll by, and he finds himself more and more drawn into the life of the school, making an incredible difference to many of the students.
I remember liking it when I saw it. And I remember watching it early on in my teaching career and thinking–wow–thirty years of teaching; look at how many lives he touched; that’s amazing. And today, I realized, I’ve only been teaching 9 fewer years than he taught in the movie. Quite the impact that thought had–am I almost as old as Mr. Holland?! Well no, he started teaching a bit later than I did, but still- thirty years of being in education doesn’t seem quite so impossible to this educator anymore. It seems like a wonderful way to spend a life.
These past weeks, with the “road to reopening” a hot topic among parents, teachers, school district leaders, politicians and well, pretty much anyone else who wants to weigh in on social media outlets, have been tense to say the least. In March, teachers were hailed as heroes; parents singing their praises after just a week or two of having to teach their own children. That tune seems to have changed, at least somewhat, in recent days. Teachers who are hesitant to go back into the classroom are being criticized and critiqued and called cowards, at times by the very same people who praised them in March. I’m not going to wade into the politics of it- each of us is entitled to our own personal feelings on the subject.
However as I wept my way through the movie and boy did I, a line at the end of the film had the tears flowing harder than before. Without spoiling the movie for those who have not ever had the pleasure of watching it, suffice to say our hero, Mr. Holland, a music teacher, has “retired” after 30 years. He says to his closest friend, also a life long teacher–
You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable.
And I wondered, how many teachers, right now across America feel the exact same way? And, if any of us, by a comment on social media or a half thought out comment about “getting back to work” has caused someone who has given their entire adult life to the service of education to feel expendable. I’d like to think that as an educator myself, I’ve never given any other educator cause to feel that way, but in the event that I ever have, I deeply apologize.
I could go on and on, the movie perfectly captures what it means to be a teacher- the late nights, the stacks of papers, the giving of yourself when you almost have no more to give, the constant tug for those teachers who are parents “the school kids need me” and “my child needs me” at the same time…the students who light up your classroom for years and then, suddenly grow up and are gone. And the teacher is left to wonder–did I have any effect on them at all? Did I do anything meaningful with my life? As I said, I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll do this instead.
Anyone reading this, whether you are one of my “faithful” weekly readers or reading for the first time, whether you’re on my faculty or on a faculty elsewhere, whether you have a child at SDA or a child in another school, or are just reading because it popped up in your news feed–I challenge you to do the following.
Take the 143 minute run time and the $3.99 cost to rent the film on Amazon Prime. Grab a box of tissues and settle back against the couch cushions. When you watch, picture not only the superb teacher that Richard Dreyfuss portrays as Mr. Holland, but the teacher that had an impact on you- be it in kindergarten or at the end of your educational career. Watch it, thinking of all that teacher must have sacrificed to be there for you, and for all the other students under his/her care each day and then…if you’re going to weigh in on the current debate about reopening- do it with that teacher’s memory in your mind.
Choose your words carefully, should you post anywhere and let’s remember, whether school is open fully, open in a hybrid model or open remotely, our teachers are our heroes and they deserve the support of everyone in the community. Look at where we all are today–each of us as a teacher to thank for that. So I say thank you, to the fictional Mr. Holland for reminding me of what I needed to recollect–
Teaching is a work of the heart.
May God bless the teachers of SDA now and in years past and teachers the world over. Thank you all, for all you’ve done.